Store wars and dodgy cars: the consumer year revisited
The battle of the supermarkets, property prices, Irish Water and revelations about Volkswagen dominated headlines in 2015
JUNE: Clerys department store on O’Connell Street closes its doors for the last time. Photograph: Frank Miller
- A new year dawns with news that a long-time voice of the Irish consumer, Eddie Hobbs, is the new voice of Lucinda Creighton’s Renua. He declares himself to be the party’s recruiter-in-chief and sets about finding brilliant people willing to run for Renua while ruling out a run himself. As the year progresses, the results of his endeavour are best described as mixed.
- Figures from the Central Statistics Office show the cost of homes climbing by 16.3 per cent in the 12 months to the end of December, and 23 per cent in Dublin. Such rises are reminiscent of the boom years.
- In news that comes as a shock to no one, it emerges that Ireland is an expensive place to party. A study conducted by One Big Switch declares dear old Ireland to be the third most expensive place in Europe to have a night out once transport, dinner, drinks, babysitting and a late-night kebab are totted up. The survey puts the cost at €112, just behind Denmark at €116.96. Luxembourg is the dearest place to go out, with the final bill there coming to €130.90. The cheapest places in Europe are Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic.
- Refunds for more than €120,000 worth of Garth Brooks tickets remain unclaimed a full year after they went on sale. Some 2,000 tickets have not been cashed in.
- It is announced that there will be no penalties imposed on those who fail to meet a new “deadline” for registration with Irish Water. It’s the third deadline in less than four months. This time the utility warns – weakly – that some who fail to sign up may face higher charges at some future point.
- An Post describes its new, almost rainbow-coloured love stamp as being ideal for the sending of invites to civil union ceremonies.
- The property crash was just the latest in a long line of Irish booms and busts recorded over the past 300 years, and not even close to being the worst, according to a major piece of research published in The Irish Times. The research shows Dublin’s property market was completely devastated in the first half of the 20th century and a decades-long crash saw real values fall by almost 90 per cent between 1906 and 1947. In real terms, property in Dublin cost less in 1944 than in 1744.
- The Central Bank’s moves to bring property prices under control by imposing an 80 per cent limit on mortgages spook the market, and residential property prices fall at their sharpest rate in three years. The decline in Dublin is put at just under 2 per cent in a month.
- The National Lottery defers its weekly jackpot draw for the first time in its 28-year history after technical problems crash ticket terminals across the State. Up to 3,500 terminals, or 95 per cent of its network, go out of commission for hours.
- Irish consumers are more upbeat than ever, with the level of confidence surpassing records made at the height of the boom, according to a Consumer Market Monitor. The survey tells us consumer spending is contributing to economic growth for the first time since the crash.
- The first online-only property auction in the history of the State takes place, with more than 45 homes going under the hammer for a total of €6.8 million. The level of interest in the Allsop Space virtual sale is described as “phenomenal” by its director of auctions, Robert Hoban.
- Some people could knock as much as €1,250 off their annual car insurance premiums by shopping around, according to a survey by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The survey also highlights the financial consequences of penalty points, with the cost of premiums potentially rising by almost half for those on two points who then pick up four more.
- It becomes clear the Central Bank has no cents. Or at least its supply is running low, prompting it to ask consumers to recirculate coins they have behind sofa cushions or piling up in jars.
- Residential property prices fall again. The national fall is 0.4 per cent; the decline in Dublin is 0.7 per cent. More than 2 per cent has been wiped off the value of homes in the capital since the start of the year.
- The Insolvency Service of Ireland publishes a report showing banks are losing more than €100,000 every time they reject a personal insolvency application. It says many institutions continue to “defy commercial logic” by forcing distressed borrowers down the bankruptcy road. Permanent TSB is the bank least likely to come to an arrangement with a borrower.
- Irish Water starts sending bills. It will print and post 37,000 bills each and every night for eight weeks, and more than 1.7 million homes will get an Irish Water envelope between now and mid-June.
- Supervalu takes over from Tesco as the largest grocery retailer in the State, ending a period of overseas dominance stretching back more than 10 years.
- Expiry dates on gift vouchers will be scrapped, consumers who download or stream content will get enhanced protection and unfair contracts will be outlawed as part of a reform of Irish consumer law. The Consumer Rights Bill is published by the Minister for Enterprise, Richard Bruton, but it won’t be law for at least a year.
- As many as 15,000 holders of standard variable-rate mortgages could see their repayments fall by more than €1,000 a year simply by switching provider, the governor of the Central Bank says.
- After 162 years in business, Clerys department store on O’Connell Street closes its doors for the final time. Some 460 people lose their jobs when American owner Gordon Brothers sells the business in the dead of night to a joint venture, Natrium, comprising Irish investment group D2 Private and Cheyne Capital Management.
- The Irish supermarket scene shifts again, as Tesco reclaims its position as the Republic’s leading retailer.
- Irish Water wins no friends when it writes to 28,000 households warning them about their lead pipes. The cost for some could be as much as €4,000.
- Online takeaway service Just Eat carries out an investigation after an analysis by The Irish Times finds dozens of fake restaurants, or restaurants using aliases, on its website. Some businesses are found to be trading under as many as five names.
- People in Ireland need to earn almost €450 a week to be able to have an acceptable standard of living, according to new research. The minimum hourly living wage a person needs has been put at €11.50 an hour by the Living Wage Technical Group, an increase of 5 cent on the 2014 rate.
- The average cost of sending a child to a nonfee-paying primary school in the coming school year will top €800, while a “free” education in secondary schools will cost more than €1,300, according to the Irish League of Credit Unions.
- House prices in the Republic increased by more than six times the EU average in the first three months of this year, according to new figures. The rate of increase across the State is put at 16.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2015 compared with the same quarter of the previous year by Eurostat. The average house price increase across the EU is 2.5 per cent.
- The Republic gets postcodes. The new Eircode system gives every house in the country a unique code. On the first day of operation, the website states that Shannon Airport is in Co Limerick, and some addresses are nowhere to be found.
- Permanent TSB is accused of “despicable behaviour” over its treatment of almost 1,400 mortgage customers whose accounts it mismanaged, resulting in some people losing their homes. The enforcement investigation by the Central Bank identifies “significant failures” connected to tracker-mortgage options and rates. Among the issues identified by the investigation is PTSB’s failure to inform certain customers of the consequences of their decisions to break early from a fixed rate or discounted tracker period.
- Vodafone is ordered to tell customers how they can cancel contracts after the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission finds it in breach of the law when selling services online.
- Thousands of Irish people who have rented out rooms or entire properties via Airbnb find out they could be hit with a retrospective tax bill dating back to at least the middle of last year.
- Retailers operating in Dublin Airport admit that consumers do not have to show boarding passes when making purchases. The admission comes after an uprising of sorts in Britain, where consumers are angered that retailers get tax discounts depending on where passengers are flying but are not passing the savings on.
- It emerges that Irish motorists have not benefited from dramatic falls in the price of fuel over the past 12 months because increases in insurance premiums have wiped out any savings. The AA study puts the average annual cost of running a family car at €10,594, down just €18 on last year’s figure. Fuel prices are down compared with 2014, but those gains are swallowed up by an average 25 per cent rise in insurance premiums for the typical motorist. Then the insurance industry announces that things will get worse in 2016 as motorists are hit with more hikes. These will come on the back of similar price hikes this year and will see motorists paying about €300 per year more for a comprehensive policy next year than they did in 2014.
- McDonald’s withdraws the term “artisan” from material promoting a new “Irish” burger featuring bacon and cabbage. The global corporation’s description of its new McMór burger falls foul of new Food Safety Authority of Ireland guidelines. Under the rules something can be described as artisan only if it is made in limited quantities by skilled craftspeople.
- Eircom changes its name again. The company, which once did its stuff under the P&T banner and then Telecom Éireann before becoming Eircom, is to be known as Eir.
- The Insolvency Service of Ireland raises the threshold it applies when arranging the forgiveness of unsecured debt by 75 per cent as part of an overhaul of its dealings with distressed borrowers and the creditors pursuing them. People with unsecured borrowings of up to €35,000 and few or no assets will now be able to have their debts written off without any interference by creditors. The previous maximum was €20,000.
- Booking. com, Europe’s largest online travel agent platform, is forced to change its policies by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission after the latter finds some aspects of its arrangements with Irish hotels are restricting price competition.
- The centrepiece of the most consumer-friendly budget since the dawn of the age of austerity seven years ago is a cut in the main universal social charge. A double- income, two-child household in which both adults earn €70,000 a year are the big winners in the budget. Such a couple will be better off by about €2,000 in 2016 when all the changes are totted up.
- The Central Bank starts phasing out one- and two-cent coins.
- Roaming charges are finally to be banned across the EU, but mobile phone users will have to wait until the middle of June 2017 before they can use their phones with abandon anywhere in the union.
- Fewer than 5,400 of the Republic’s five million current account holders switched provider in the first half of the year, according to a new report from the Central Bank. A virtually moribund switching market would suggest that banks can continue to impose higher fees and additional charges without fear of consequence.
- Bank of Ireland is condemned for imposing severe restrictions on the type of over-the-counter transactions it will allow its staff to handle in future. Under new rules its customers have to make withdrawals of less than €700 and small cheque lodgements at ATMs rather than at the counter.
- Legislation aimed at freezing residential rent prices for periods of two years is introduced to deal with the chronic housing shortage and a homelessness crisis that threatens to derail the Government narrative that happy days are here again.
- A formal investigation into Volkswagen and its operations in the Republic is launched by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in the wake of disclosures about the company’s understatement of CO2 emissions in its cars. The watchdog is “deeply concerned” about the situation, which has affected more than 9,000 Irish car owners.
- Supervalu leapfrogs Tesco once again in the race to be top of the Irish supermarket table. Dunnes Stores is close to knocking the British retail giant into third place.
- The anticipated bedlam of Black Friday does not materialise. Some shops in the city centre seem slightly busier than normal, but for most it is business as usual.
- When tickets, flights and the cost of accommodation, food and drink are totted up, many Irish football fans from both sides of the Border will see little change out of €2,000 if they want to see Ireland play all three group games in Euro 2016. AIB announces loan offerings of €1,000- €30,000 to cover the cost and promises to process them in three hours.
- The average price of a litre of petrol or diesel is cheaper now than at any time since March 2010, according to the AA’s Fuel Price Index. The falling price of oil internationally has been dramatic since the middle of last year, when it was holding above $100 per barrel. It is now trading at a little over $36.
- The force awakens. Deadly lightsabers knock cool singing dolls off the top of the Irish toy charts for the first time in more than two years, as Elsa and Anna are frozen out by Star Wars merchandise.